» BOSTON 200 NEIGHBORHOOD HISTORY SERIES
Henry Adams, the nineteenth cen-
tury philosopher, said that the history
of America is not the history of the
few, but the history of the many. The
people of Boston's neighborhoods have
accepted the challenge of Adam's
statement to produce "people's his-
tories" of their own communities.
Hundreds of Bostonians formed com-
mittees in each of fifteen neighborhood;
of the city, volunteering their time over
the past year and a half to research
in libraries, search for photographs,
produce questionnaires, transcribe
tapes, assist in writing and editing, anc
most important, act as interviewers
and subjects of "oral history" research.
These booklets are not traditional
textbook histories, and we have not at-
tempted to cull a statistical sample.
We have simply talked with our
neighbors, people who remember,
sometimes with fondness, sometimes
with regret, but always with wisdom.
For each of us has his or her own
story to tell, and these stories are vital
to the development of our neighbor-
hoods and our city.
© 1976, The Boston 200 Corporation
Boston 200 is the city's official program
to observe the Bicentennial of the
American Revolution from April igy^
through December 1976.
Kevin H. White, Mayor
Katharine D. Kane,
President, The Boston 200 Corporation
I Beacon Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
BLACK BOS TON I A
I saw Jesus down in Dixie
Beaten hy the hit Klux Klan
Beaten for the simple reason that
He dared to he a man.
James William Henderson
H E S E words were written, not al^out some swamp-
land in tlie Soutli by a fearful, desperate Negro seeking
refuge from a I'obed potential lynch mob, but about
Boston, the "Ch'adlc of Liberty," where nmaway
blacks found refuge from thcii' slave masters; where an-
gry, fearless abolitionists, white and black, preached
against the evils of hiunan bondage; where William
Monroe Trotter, Malcolm X, Da\ id Walker, Reverend
Ike and Maitin Luther King Jr. wrote and rearranged
James William Henderson, a dapper man of
80 plus years, wrote these words more than a genera-
tion ago. He still casts an admiring eye toward pretty
girls, still reads and writes poetry, still acts, still attacks
life with a zest — a little more slowly, more deliberately,
but not less enthusiastically.
Although Mr. Henderson reads his angry poetry in
public appearances, he also revels in his love of Boston,
in his life in this city, in his cultural achievements here,
in his civil rights experiences with Monroe Trotter, in
the achievements of his daughter, in the excitement of
his sweethearts. Mr. Henderson is not afraid of the
streets of Boston.
To black Bostonians, the Hub remains the "CIradle
of Liberty" in spite of its many contradictions. Black
people should know. Unlike many ethnic, cultural and
racial groups that have migrated to this city, l:)lack
people have lived in every community. They have
moved from the North End to Beacon Hill to the West
End to the South End to Roxbury and now beyond,
fanning out into every area of the city.
Black people came to settle in Boston through
many avenues — as slaves and fugitive slaves, sailors, in-
dentured servants, ambitious freemen.
And black people are not johnnies-come-lately.
The first African arrived in Boston in 1683. Black peo-
ple have lived in this city ever since. Only 766 blacks,
4 percent of the population, were counted in Boston in
the first United States census in i 790. Boston became a
front (iover: Outdoor scene from the Herbert Collins Collection
INSIDE cover: Dr. Cornelius N. Garland who founded t/ie Plymouth Hospital in 1008 '
haven for free blacks. Most migrated from other north-
ern states; a few came from the South.
Blacks first worked as slaves and servants in white
households. By 1700 they had settled as a group near
the wharves of the North End in an area known as
"New Guinea." Copp's Hill Burying Ground, a stop
along Boston's Black History Trail at Hull and Snow-
hill Streets, is the city's second oldest cemetery. More
A square in the South End, c. igoo
than 1,000 blacks were buried at CU)pp's Hill during
the eighteenth century, l)ut only a few of the original
tombstones remain today.
Early in the nineteenth century, black people
moved from the North End and settled on Beacon Hill
and in the newly opened West End.
During the nineteenth century, Boston's black pop-
ulation grew steadily. Blacks migrated from Virginia,
North Carolina and South Clarohna, as well as the
West Indies and Canada.
The West End could not accommodate the contin-
uing influx of black people from various cultures and
communities. Housing became rundown and rents be-
came inflated. A movement to the S(uuh End began.
Like the South End of today, the area became a
lacially mi.xed one where blacks and whites —Irish,
Yankees, Jews and Swedes — lived as neighbors. Only
a few streets in the area were all black: Windsor, Cam-
den, Kendall and Sawyer.
Washington Street from Massachusetts Avenue to
Rugglcs Street became a crowded business thorough-
fare of stores and tenements; it remains so today.
Buildings on Tremont Street housed shops on the
ground level and apartments on upper floors. Streets
were wide and lawns were attractive.
More prosperous blacks lived on Buckingham
Street, an area abandoned as residential when Back
Bay Station was built in 1897. Houses were torn down
and blacks moved to outlying areas.
So was early Boston.
"And honor to Crispus Atl ticks, who was leader and voice
The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick,
Carr and Gray.
Call it riot or revolution, or mob or crowd as you may.
Such deaths have been seeds 0/ nations, such lives shall be
honored for ay . .
Written by John Boyle O'Reilly, these words grace a
monument to Crispus Attucks on the Boston Common.
On March 5, 1770, he became the first American mar-
tyr, one of four men slain defying armed British soldiers
in the Boston Massacre on the water front. From the
rear of a crowd facing the soldiers, Attucks moved for-
ward, shouting, "Do not be afraid. They dare not
fire." The crowd surged closer to the redcoats. "Damn
them! They dare not fire," shouted Attucks. "Fire!
And be damned."
By that time, Attucks and those who pushed up be-
hind him were facing the British muskets. Someone
threvN' a snowball. A British soldier was hit. Falling
back, he fired. Other shots were fired. Attucks tum-
bled downward, blood flowing. It was too late to re-
treat. The crowd rumbled forward. More shots were
fired. Three other men died beside Attucks.
Three days later, Boston closed its businesses and
honored the four heroes with a funeral. Bells from sur-
rf)unding towns tolled in their honoi'. No one knows
how or why Crispus Attucks appeared on this scene on
that day. He was a runaway slave who had escaped
from William Brown in his native Framingham, Mas-
saf husetts, twenty years earlier. Brown had advertised
for his recovery, offering a reward of 10 pounds. No
one ever collected.
Attucks was one of 800 blacks, one third of whom
were free, living in Boston in i 770. A sailor more often
at sea than in Boston, Attucks appeared on the public
scene only briefly, as an opponent of slavery, as well as
an advocate for .American freedom.
Prince Hall was another significant early black
Bostonian. A sailor from Baibados, he arrived in Bos-
ton in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1776, a year af-
ter Hall had come to town, Boston blacks filed a test
case against slavery. This started a wave of test cases
throughout New England, which helped some slaves
to win their freedom. Men like Hall led rallies and
public meetings against slavery.
Hall made two important contributions to black
progress. He founded and organized the black Masons,
now known as Prince Hall Masons, and he persuaded
George Washington to utilize black troops to fight the
Becoming a Mason was not easy for Hall. He first
applied to an American lodge, but was rejected. He
and fourteen other black men were initiated into a
British Army lodge on March 6, 1775. After the British
left the area, they operated imder a limited permit as
Afiican Lodge No. i. Hall was not satisfied with this
status. He and the black Masons finally received an Of-
ficial charter fiom the Grand Lodge of England and
oflScially became the African Lodge No. 459 in Boston
on May 6, 1787. Hall also organized African lodges in
Philadelphia and Providence, thus expanding the
membership of Prince Hall Masons in our new nation.
In early revolutionary days, Prince Hall and other
black soldiers fought at Lexington, Concord and Bun-
ker Hill as part of the Army of Cambridge. When
George Washington became commander of the con-
tinental armed forces, he did not permit them to join
the Continental Army. Prince Hall went to work. He
led a delegation of free blacks to complain to the new
general. General Washington accepted their plea and
restored their Army status.
Throughout the war, Prince Hall led anti-slavery
movements. After the war, he protested white violence
against blacks. He spoke out against slavery and
helped the cause of Islacks in the Masonry until he died
on November 4, 1807.
In addition to being a Mason and a soldier. Prince
Hall was a minister. Professionally, he did well as an
artisan and soap manufacturer. He also advocated
equal educational opportunity for black children:
"We must fear for our rising offspring to see them
in ignorance in a land of gospel light, where there is
provision made for them as well as others, and yet they
can't enjoy them because they are black," Prince Hall
said as he filed a public petition for equal education
for Ijlacks in 1 787. At a later date, he asked Boston to
build a school for black children.
Primus Hall, a black man unrelated to Prince Hall,
opened his home on Beacon Hill to black children.
When funds ran short for this private school, sixty-six
citizens filed for money from the Boston School Com-
mittee. Their petition was denied. On his own, Primus
Hall raised money from wealthy whites to keep the
By 1805, Boston's black Christian population had
The members of the Knights of Pythias in the South End
built and organized the African Meeting House on
Smith Court. It still stands on Beacon Hill off Joy
Street, the home of the Museum of Afro-American
History. To accommodate increasing enrollment, the
little school at the home of Primus Hall was moved to
the basement of the African Meeting House.
There the school remained until 1835, receiving
S200 each year from the Boston School Committee.
This school was also supported by a trust fund, estab-
lished in 181 5 by a wealthy white, Abiel Smith. The
Boston School Committee took control of the school,
assigning the city's black children to it.
In 1835, the City of Boston used some of the Smith
fund to build the Abiel Smith School, which stands
next door to the meeting house. The city still owns this
building and leases it to an American Legion post.
As this school became overcrowded — black stu-
dents from East Boston had free ferry passes to attend
— parents began to petition for school integration.
In 1840 William C. Nell, who had studied at the
African Meeting House School, together with white
abrjlitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips
and others, filed the first equal schooling rights petition
with the city government. Nothing happened. Later,
in 1844, the School Committee did not respond to a
petition to close the Smith school and to integrate the
city's school system.
After the failure of these and other petitions, black
parents supported a lawsuit filed by Benjamin Roberts
in 1 847 on behalf of his daughter, Sarah, who passed
five other schools on her way to the Smith .School. An
interracial legal duo, white Charles Sumner and black
Robert Morris, argued the Roberts case. They lost.
Black people took their fight to the state legislature,
which finally passed a law in April 1885, prohibiting
racially segregated schools throughout the Common-
wealth. "Good bye, colored school!" shouted a little
black boy who passed the closed Smith School on Sep-
tember 3, 1885, the day other city schools opened to
So ended pre-Givil War racial segregation in B(js-
ton public schools.
The Black Church — Home oj Early Militants
Through the years, black people have li\ed in \ ir-
tually every section of Boston. There is no Ijelter w ay
to follow this movement of a people than to Ibllow the
flow of the black church. Asked whether churches
should move from community to community rather
than remain behind when people leave, James Hen-
derson expresses black thought when he says:
"Whether we admit it or not, the gieatest influence
on the black population of America has been the
church. Whatever has enabled the church to become
more available has been an asset. For a long time, the
church will be the nucleus of Negro activity. A lot of us
kick and say it has lost its impact. That is not true. We
are a deeply religious people. We can't get away from
it. It's part of us."
White church bias caused the formation ol" black
churches in Boston, as it did in other parts of the na-
Mr. Henderson speaks of his sons: "There was a big
church on Ruggles Street, the Ruggles Street Baptist
Clhurch. When my kids were small, my eldest son, Vic-
tor, who is fair with light red hair and very athletic,
was invited there by some boys from school. They
asked him to come to join their clubs for their games.
He went to the Ruggles Street Baptist Church and he
was welcome there. He looked white, anyhow, al-
Billy, Mr. Henderson's youngest son, who is dark
\\ ith brown hair, decided to go too, and brought some
of his friends. The people at church "looked askance,"
says Mr. Henderson. "One Sunday Billy came home
crying, they didn't want him there anymore. His
mother and I went out to the church. I gave them my
little spiel. Finally, they came to the house. They
wanted to pray.
"I said, 'What the heck are you going to pray for?'
" 'We want to pray with you.'
" T don't w ant to pray with you, "I said, 'l)ecause if
God has the same idea of praying that I have, your
prayers won't get there. You are hypocrites. You are
leading your congregation in hypocrisy. You are cater-
ing to the prejudice of Boston. Go ahead. Pray all you
Phyllis Whcatley, first female poet of African descent
The assistant pastor worked with Billy, and even-
tually the congregation held a brotherhood dinner in
Roxbury. The Hendersons sat with the pastor and his
wife. Mr. Henderson comments:
"Victor didn't look black and he could get by.
Here's his brother, Billy, of the same I'ather and the
same mother, but his complexion isn't ([uite fair
The African Meeting House, built by free blacks in 1806
enough. That may be reHgion, but it's not Christian-
.Mi\ Henderson is talking about twentieth-century
Boston ol several decades ago. Back in the eighteenth
century, poet Phyllis Wheatley, as a freed slave, was
Ibrccd to sit in the "Negro pew " at Old South Meeting
House, where she was a member until her death in
Sitting in the black area of w hite churches w as the
general custom for black people, slave or free, attend-
ing .services in colonial days and the early nineteenth
century. In 1805, one group of black people decided to
do something about this situation and founded the
African Baptist Clhurch.
Free blacks ljuilt the African Meeting House in
1805 to house the new church. Financed completely
by free l)lack people, led by Cato Gardner, a iormer
slave, the meeting house was constructed by black
craftsmen and laborers. This building anchored the
black settlement on Beacon Hill, an area which pro-
tected black people from invading slave catchers.
Popularly called "The Abolitionist C^hurch," the
meeting house opened its doors to white al)olitionist
William Lloyd Garrison in 1834 w hen he was refused
the use of Faneuil Hall.
Founded shortly thereafter was the Charles Street
African Methodist Fpiscopal (AME) Church, now lo-
cated in Roxbury. These two churches were increased
to five black congregations by 1850. Today, People's
Baptist Church in the South End and Twellth Baptist
Church in Roxbury stand as descendants of the origi-
nal African Baptist Church.
One of New England's leading ministers is the
Revi; RK.M) Richard M. Owens, pastor of Peo-
ple's Ba]Jtist in the South End since 1936 and in\'olved
w ith that ( iiuich since 1934. Reverend Owens, hon-
oicd by the Roxl)uiy Kiwanis Club as its 1976 Man of
the \'eai-, holds a fiist. He was the fust black elected
Picsidcnt of the \e\v American Baptist Cluu'ches of
Massachusetts. He is also a trustee of New England
He came to Boston in 1 934 from his native Lynch-
burg, Virginia, after graduation from Virginia Theo-
logical Seminary and College. He lived with his sister,
Mrs. Mary White, who had been a resident of Boston
lor twenty years. He tells why he came to Boston:
"Boston had greater educational opportunity. I
made application to Andover Newton Theological
School. I was accepted and I came."
His sister was a member of People's Baptist
C:hurch. The Reverend Owens who has preached
since he was a teen-ager, was invited to be a supply
pastor for the church because the minister was sickly.
He was called pastor in 1936, before he had finished
At first, he preached, but did not officially pastor
the church, Reverend Owens says, because Andover
Newton's president told church officers that school-
work and pastoring were two big responsibilities. Rev-
erend Owens says of this philosophy:
"Of course, if you are a preacher and you are at a
church, you are called upon to do things that a pastor
does. I was as much pastor then as I am now. But I
wasn't supposed to pastor; I was only supposed to
preach on Sunday.
"When I came here at the heel of the depression,
this church gave food to people. It was active in com-
mimity life and helped in a number of ways to alleviate
People's Baptist C^hurch is the result of a 1915
merger of three churches: St. Paul Baptist, from the or-
iginal Meeting House congregation; Calvary Baptist, a
split from Twelfth Baptist in 1892; and Morning Star
Baptist. People's Baptist is the seventh oldest black
church in the United States.
Churches have changed since he came to Boston,
says Reverend Owens. In the time of the Reverend
David S. Klugh, who preceded him as pastor, Rever-
T/if Charles Street Meeting House, a center for black religious activities until igjg
African Meeting House and the People's Baptist Church
end Owens says black churches worked with white
"People's Baptist CHiurch had been active because
Dr. Klusfh stood well with the white ministers. I think
he was the one and perhaps the only man who bridged
the gap and was friendly with other churches. I'd say
the church then was related to other churches, not only
black, t)ut white as well, in a rather unicjue way.
"Dr. Klugh counseled and did a lot for people's
personal lives. He was constantly hearing people's
problems and bringing them together. It seemed like
he majored in the pastoral side of the work. There are
some pastors and some preachers. Dr. Klugh did both,
Another change in today's cluirch, says Reverend
Owens, is that church members no longer come from
the surrounding community.
"Once I could practically clap my hand on Sunday
morning and half fill the church because members
lived all around it. And I had a bell in this church.
There are very few of them now. That liell is an origi-
nal cast by Paul Revere. I could ring that bell and get
the church two-thirds full."
Today, members come from the suburbs and all
over Boston. Reverend Owens says: "They come back
to this church because it's a landmark. It's an historical
church. When urban renewal tore down the housing
where people lived — ordinarily they were very poor —
those people could not move back. We own a project
ourselves, C^amfield Gardens, with 135 units. Less than
a third of the people who live there attend this church
and it's next door."
The South End is changing and white people are
moving h^ck. Reverend Owens suggests:
"Blacks need to be awakened to the fact that more
people are coming back, lest they lose a lot more to
whites who are returning to be near school, the city,
People's Baptist lacks the space to house communi-
ty activities, but plans to build an educational build-
ing. The church hopes to open facilities for a day-care
center, a senior citizens meeting place and other com-
munity activities. Church members work with prison-
ers, sending i'orces to Framingliam, Norfolk and Wal-
The church mission is changing, Re\erend Owens
says, and one man cannot do it all.
"In our church we can't pay all the people we
need. I wish I had a staff to do all the things I'm doing
— teach religious and convert classes, visit the sick,
l3ury the dead, marry people, go to the hospital, go to
conventions. \Vc can't pay other people to do it."
Black people are still together in seeking to create a
better community and better race relations, says Rev-
erend Owens, but '"By nature the church is not a poli-
tical instrument. It does not involve itself too deeply.
\'et, we are concerned uith what goes on and what
happens. We have gone on occasion to talk to the
mayor. We've joined groups to protest. We take part
in everything that has to do with trying to bring about
a better community and city."
Black churches and black people work together,
says Reverend Owens. Boston churches rallied to the
cause of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Dr. King was simply a student while he lived in
Boston. He preached at local churches, including Peo-
ple's but mostly at Twelfth Baptist. I think King was a
symljol, a very fine symbol, being a minister, pastoring
a church and inspiring people. When he made his
mo\ e, this church especially and all churches followed
through and helped. We were wide awake to the move-
Twelfth Baptist Clhurch, originally The First Inde-
pendent Baptist Clhurch, grew from an 1840 split at
the African Meeting House. Under the Reverend
Leonard A. Grimes, Twelfth Baptist became a haven
for escaped slaves. In 1854 the church purchased the
freedom of a meml^er, Anthony Burns, an escaped
slave who had been returned to his owner in the South.
Since helping runaway slaves fight the Fugitive
Slave Law was costly, Twelfth Baptist had to close its
doors temporarily. With the help of ministers and
white abolitionists. Reverend Grimes was able to com-
plete the building of the church and to buy freedom
for members in slavery.
By 1899, church members began to leave Beacon
Hill for the South End. In 1906, Twelfth Baptist was
relocated in the South End on Shawmut Avenue. To-
day the church is located in Roxbury, near Dudley
P 1 W 1
A window in Si. Cyprian s, second churcli built by blacks
Only a few blocks away on Warren Street in Rox-
bury is the Gharles Street AME (Ihurch which still re-
tains its name from its founding on Beacon Hill around
1818. Between 1876 and 1939, this church was located
in the old Gharles Street Meeting Hf)use, originally
home to a white Baptist congregation in the West End.
A center for black religious and civic programs,
( :harles Street AME finally moved fi-om Charles Street
in 1939 to the former home of the white St. Angarius
Church. There, under the Reverend Walter Davis,
who retired in 1974, Charles Street AME continued
its community leadership role in Roxbury.
When the Methodist Episcopal Church was organ-
ized in Boston in 1790, Ijlacks liegan to attend services.
By 1 81 8, black members of the Bromfield Street Meth-
odist Episcopal Church felt they should separate from
the white congregation. A church was established on
Beacon Hill in 1823 moved to larger quarters in
The choir of
Fourth Methodist Church
which David Walker
also attended, igsG
The church was a hideout for fugitive slaves as they
\N aited for the Underground Railroad to carry them to
freedom in Canada. In 1903 the building was sold and
the congregation lost its Revere Street home. Its title
had been owned by Bromfield Street Methodist. In
1 9 1 1 , the black congregation became Eourth Metho-
dist and moved to the South End.
The chui ch sponsored the Hattie B. Cooper Com-
munity Center, which still exists and has grown stead-
ily in size and infiuence. In May 1949, Fourth Metho-
dist became Union Methodist C Church and moved
again to its present site, spacious c|uarters on Columbus
Avenue once ovsned by the I'nion Congregational
Only the African Meeting House stands as a black-
ou ncd memory of the churches where preachers thun-
dered their sermons on Beacon Hill. Today black
churches of many denominations are located in the
South End, Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan — wher-
ever l)lack people live in Boston.
The churches have followed the movement of the
cil\"s i^lack minority.
"Are we men! I ask . . . are we MEN?"
So wrote David Walker in 1829 when he created
Walker's Appeal, a series of pamphlets advising black
people, free or slave, not to be satisfied with their lot.
David Walker was a free man who moved from
North Carolina to Boston to live and operate his own
printing firm. In his articles, fully titled David Walker's
Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble to the
Colored Citizens of the World But in Particular, and Very Ex-
pressly, to Those of the United States of America, Walker
'"Did our creator make us to be slaves to the dust
and ashes like ourselves? Are they not dying worms as
well as we? How we could be submissive to a gang of
men, whom we cannot tell whether they are as good as
ourselves or not, I never conceive . . . America is more
our country than it is the whites' — we have enriched it
with our blood and tears. . . . And they will drive us
from our property and homes w hich we have earned
with our blood."
Walker's Appeal fell like a bombshell in the South,
especially among slaveholders. Many states forbade its
distribution; copies showed up, nevertheless. Three
state legislatures held secret sessions on the pamphlet.
Rewards were offered for Walker: Si 0,000 alive or
Walker's family and friends in Boston suggested
that he leave the United States for Canada. He re-
fused. Not only did he continue the Appeal, but he also
wrote for the first black newspaper, Freedom's Journal.
In 1830, Walker was found dead.
Walker's writing set a standard for freedom bearers
that has epitomized Boston as the fabled "'Chadle oi
Liberty" through the years.
Two years after Walker's death, the New England
Anti-Slavery Society was organized at the African
Meeting House l)y whites. In 1841 the Society em-
ployed Frederick Douglass as a paid lecturer. Boston
became the center of abolitionist and anti-slavery ac-
tivity by both blacks and whites. By the end of the
Civil War, its reputation for freedom attracted former
slaves and free blacks to Boston.
Black people established their own lousinesses and
social institutions. They began to exercise voting rights
and to gain some political status. In 1859 Lewis Hay-
den, once a fugitive slave from Kentucky, became the
first black public appointee when he was named a mes-
senger to the Massachusetts Secretary of State.
Living dangerously brought Hayden prominence
in the pre-Civil War days of the Undergroimd Rail-
road. His home at 66 Phillips Street became a haven
for runaway slaves, a major station on the Under-
ground Railroad. Slaves crawled through a secret tun-
nel into his home, where they were fed and clothed and
then sent on to freedom.
Hayden himself had escaped slavery via the Under-
ground Railroad. In Boston, he operated a clothing
store on Cambridge Street. Through this source, he
helped to clothe escapees. His store became the second
largest black-owned business in Boston. In his multi-
faceted life, Hayden was also a Prince Hall Mason and
a founder of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
His public career climaxed in 1873 when he was
elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Hayden, however, was not the first black memljer of
the state legislature. This honor went to two men in
1866: Edv^in G. Walker, son of David Walker of Walk-
er's Appeal fame; and Charles L. Mitchell, a Civil War
veteran. Each served a year.
John J. .Smith, a barber who had been active in the
anti-slavery movement, was elected to the state's
House in 1868 and 1869. He was returned to the leg-
islature in 1873 along with another black, Joshua B.
Smith, a caterer by profession.
Boston's first black lawyer, George L. Ruflin, was
elected to the House in 1870 and 1871. (The state's
first black lawyer, Macon B. Allen, was admitted to the
bar in 1845 after passing the bar examinations in
Worcester.) Ruflin was elected to the Boston City
Council in 1875 and was named judge of the City
Coui t in the Charlestown district in 1883. A graduate
of Harvard Law .School, Ruiiin was a barber Ijefore
By 1875, black people were a majority in the West
End. The city was redistricted and black power at the
polls was stymied.
Because of the heroism of the Massachusetts 54th
Regiment during the Civil War, a number of veterans
received federal appointments. These included John
Redmond, who was appointed a light inspector in
1865 and promoted to Customs House clerk in 1871.
William Dupree moved from mailman to superin-
tendent of a postal substation in the South End.
CHiarles Mitchell, a former legislator, became a cus-
toms inspector in 1869. James Monroe Trotter, father
of the famed William Monroe Trotter, became the
first black clerk in the Post Office and was later up-
graded to director of the registered letter division. He
wrote the first history of black musicians, Music a/id
Some Hio/ilv Musical People, published in 1878.
77?^' Monroe Trotter Influence
No story about black political and social action in
Boston is complete without reference to William Mon-
roe Trotter and his newspaper. The Guardian.
'Tn a very real sense Trotter was Boston, and Bos-
ton in its finest sense was Trotter," recalled black jour-
nalist William Worthy in a Boston Globe story, "South
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Rev-
erend Ike, Howard Thurman and many other well
known black leaders have spent key parts of their lives
in Boston, but none has had the ongoing impact on
this city that Trotter has had. He was founder, editor
and publisher of the tlmmdering Guardian from 1901
Throughout his life. Trotter protested everything
he even remotely suspected of drawing the color line
Detail of the monument to the j^th Regiment
or assigning Ijlack people to an inferior and segregated
status. He was uncompromising in liis demand for full
and immediate equality for Afro-Americans. By 1905,
Trotter, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and an integrated group
founded the Niagara Movement, which later became
the NAACP. In 1914, he went to the White House to
protest to President Woodrow Wilson the segregation
of Ijlack federal employees. Trotter was a Phi Beta
Kappa graduate of Harvard, class of 1895. In that
same year, in Atlanta, Booker T. Washington deliv-
ered his C'otton States E.xposition address which es-
tablished two camps of black thought in the nation, a
division which still exists today.
"Our greatest danger," said Mr. Washington, "is
tliat in the great leap from slavery to freedf)m we may
overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live hy the
productions of our hands . . . No race can prosper till
it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field
as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must
begin, and not at the top ..."
Throughout his life. Trotter refused to accept this
premise. Through the Guardian, he fought Bf)oker T.
Washington. In July 1902, Trotter made his first pub-
lic demonstration in Boston against Washington.
Melnea C;..\ss, the "First Lady of Roxbury," ex-
plains the basis of Trotter's protest:
"Their ideologies were so different. Booker T.
Washington lielieved in training black people's hands
and minds to work in the trades he felt were easier to
enter. . . . Black men could find work and make a living
as carpenters and plumbers and mechanics.
"But Trotter felt that relegating them to that kind
of work without advising them to seek higher educa-
tion, to become doctors and lawyers, was nf)t accept-
In preparing for his protest against Washington,
Trotter had worked out nine cjuestions to ask him. He
planned tf) publish the questions and answers in the
Guardian. On the big night, more than 2,000 people
filled the Columbus Avenue AME Zion Clhurch. As
Washington began to speak, a hostile group shouted
cjucsti(jns at him. They were removed from the church.
Confusion reigned. Washington tried to speak.
Trotter jumped on a chair and began to shout his
cjuestions. Washington never did have a chance to give
his address. Trotter and his sister, Maude, were ar-
rested and jailed. His sister was accused of stabbing a
policeman with a hatpin. 7 heir mother posted l)ail for
William Monroe Trotter, c. i8g8
them. Tiottcr was fined 850 and sentenced to thirty
days in jail.
Mrs. Class desci-il)es the eonlVtjntation as her moth-
er-in-law, Mrs. Rosa Brown, related it:
"My mother-in-law was there. She said that it
went ri^;ht into a fist ii^iit; no one had exj^ected that.
It ((ot out oi'hand. J rolter's snppoi ters had planned to
sprinkle around in the place and disturl) the meeting.
■" The sponsors had heard about it and were ready
lor them. They had police there. It was really too bad.
.\itlu)ui>li they had a dillerence of opinion, that's one
thinti; that never should have liappened.
"Trotter wanted to speak and they wouldn't let
him. He wasn't invited to speak. The event had been
planned for Booker T. Washington."
One of Trotter's most memorable battles was
waged against the establishment of a predominantly
black hospital, to be called the New Plymouth Hospi-
tal and housed in the old Beth Israel Hospital in upper
Lucille Allen, graduate oj the J\ur.us"l 1 itniuig Seluxil, 1^24
Roxbury. The idea was proposed and nurtured by Dr.
Cornelius X. Garland.
Dr. Garland was a nativ e of Alabama and a gradu-
ate of two black colleges, Livingstone for undergradu-
ate study and Shaw University for medical study. He
had established the Plymouth Hospital and Nurse's
Training .Schf)ol in 1908, only one block from Boston
City Hospital on East Springfield Street. This hospital
was open to all, regardless of race, color or creed, and
ofTered an affiliation to black physicians who, as a
group, were not allowed to study or practice at Boston
hospitals, including City Hospital.
Li ciLLE Allen recalls the nursing school was
open to young w'omen, aged nineteen to thirty-five,
with a "grammar school education and the physical
capacity to undergo the strenuous life which necesarily
accompanies the proiession of a nurse."
Jn 1928, Dr. Garland formed an interracial com-
mittee to enlarge Plymouth to serve the black popula-
tion and to be staffed by blacks. Monroe Trotter and a
prominent black physician. Dr. William Worthy, and
Dr. John Hall Sr. and Dr. W. O. Taylor were opposed
to a separate black hospital. They began to integrate
Mr. Trotter and Dr. Worthy openly opposed Dr.
Garland's interracial committee, forcing it to disband
within two months. They then intensified their efforts
to integrate City Hospital.
On September 6, 1929, the trustees of City Hospital
voted to admit two Ijlack women, Francis Harris and
Letitia Campfield, to its nursing school. Two years la-
ter, Dr. John Hall H became the first black intern to
train at Boston Caty Hospital.
Although Mr. Trotter and Dr. Worthy successfully
integrated City Hospital, they were severely criti-
cized by black people lor opposing the expansion of
Plymouth Hospital. Recalling those days, Myrtle
Worthy, daughter of Dr. Worthy, says:
"A second-rate, segiegated hospital was not what
my father or Mr. Trotter wanted. My lather learned
that the old frame hospital was not worth the 8125,000
to be paid and that it was to be a hospital for colored.'"
Mrs. C'ass says the fight against Plymouth Hospital
was not one that black people supported:
"Dr. Garland wanted a place where colored people
could go and freely train. Trotter fought that idea and
it died. That's one thing I regret that he did.
"We needed that hospital. If we had put our forces
l)ehind it, white and black would have gone there.
.Vnything we have, white people come to see what
we're doing. Who knows? It might have been a purely
integrated place whether we wanted it or not. But
Trotter didn't see it.
"A lot of people put money into it. It just didn't
work and that was a tragedy. We could have owned a
hospital right near where I live. A monument to black
people's ingenuity. It would have been wonderful."
Mrs. Cass recalls lots of stories about Mr. Trotter.
As a young married woman, she became involved
with him through her mother-in-law, Mrs. Rosa
Brown, "one of the leading figures in the NAACP and
Equal Rights League here."
"I was thrown in touch w ith him as a young wom-
an," Mrs. Cass says. "I became interested in communi-
ty work through my mother-in-law. She was out there
pioneering along with all those people who preceded
us and Mr. Trotter, who was a fighter. He believed in
demanding w hat he wanted for black people. He or-
ganized groups to protest."
Mrs. Cass describes his demonstration against the
downtown showing of the movie. Birth of a \ation:
"His wife, his sister Maude and he held a l)ig meet-
ing at Columbus Avenue AME Zion Church. They
marched from there to the theatre and surrounded it.
Those white people were determined to show it, but
finally they had to take it ofT. That is the kind of pro-
test Mr. Trotter led in this city that made a difference
in how we were treated."
Mrs. C'ass recalls how Mr. Trotter halted racial dis-
crimination against l)lack people at the Metropolitan
Life Insurance ofiice on Warren Street in Roxbury, a
building that black people now operate:
'"All of us colored people — no white people — had
to stand in line to pay our insurance. I said to one or
two people, 'This is terrible; w e ought to see w hat's the
matter.' When I talked to what I thought was one of
the head men, he said he didn't have anything to do
"I told Mr. Trotter, "Vou should go up there and
see what they're going to do aljout our standing in
line.' He went in to see the manager. The manager
wouldn't see him. . . . So, he got some people together
and we picketed the insurance company. The crowd
got bigger and bigger because all the colored people
that came by joined the line."
Finally, the manager did see Mr. Trotter.
"I'll never forget it," Mrs. Cass says. "In another
couple of weeks all of that was changed. He could af-
fect things. He stuck at it. He never gave up. And he
went by himself if nobody wanted to go with him.
That's the kind of dauntless man he w as.
"The masses of people came behind him and
helped him. They didn't buy his paper as much as I
w ish they had, to make it a flourishing affair. I'm sorry
they didn't support the paper as much as they should
have — with their money."
Mrs. C'ass heads the Equal Rights League which
Trotter founded. "I remember the first day of the Bos-
ton Equal Rights League, she says. The League was
piominent and active in equal rights. Its belief was
that all people are created equal, and black and white
are entitled to their rights."
The League perpetuates the Trotter legend
through the observance of the Boston Massacre each
year on March 5. The ceremony begins on State Street
where tiie massacre took place, continues to the Gran-
March jl/i observance of the Boston Massacre led by the Boston Equal Rights League
ary Burial Ground and winds up with a lecture and
(lucstion-answer forum on tlie Bostcni Gonmion.
Another tribute to the editor stands in Roxlnuv,
tin- W'ilhani Monroe Trotter Schof)!, a fully intetfrated
school in the heart of a i)lack connnunitv. The school
was named for Trotter only after the Equal Rights
League had fought for more than six years.
William Monroe Trotter was controversial. Dr.
DuBois wrote in his l)ook, Dusk of Dawn: "The (iuardian
was bitter, satirical, and perscMial, but it was well ed-
ited, it was earnest, and it published facts. It attracted
wide attention among colored people; it circulated
among them all over the country; it was quoted and
discussed. I did not wholly agree with the Guardian and
indeed only a few Negroes did, but nearly all read it
and were influenced by it."
And there were the Public People
In spite of Trotter's opposition, Booker T. Wash-
ington's theories had an impact on Boston's black busi-
ness persons and professionals.
Before the days of Booker T. Washington, black
men were the barbers for the city's population. Black
women were cosmetologists — "hairdressers" in those
days. Black entrepreneurs ran catering, tailoring and
photography services, newstands and restaurants.
Because the black population of Boston until re-
cently has been small, to a large degree, black busi-
nesses have had to rely on white patronage. Some util-
ized white employees.
J. H. Lewis operated the Lewis Tailoring Establish-
ment at the turn of the twentieth century. Bell-bottom
trousers were his specialty. Joseph Lee operated a ca-
tering firm and two hotels, one a resort, Scjuantum Inn
on the South Shore; and the other, a hotel, the Wood-
land Park in Newton. Lee invented two machines; a
crumber to utilize leftover bread for puddings, dressing
or fried fish, and a bread-making machine to serv'e his
catering and hotel operations. Gilbert C. Harris was
New England's largest wig maker.
Tremont Street was "the street" for black activity.
The Eureka Cooperative Bank at 930 Tremont Street
was "the only bank in the East owned and operated by
colored people." Thomas E. Lucas ran the "cool,
clean, commodius" Southern Dining Room, "Good
food and prompt attentive service have made this a
most desirable place for discriminating people."
"Strictly pure" ice cream and "homemade" candies
Studio portrait, c. igso
were produced by Benjamin Brothers, wholesalers and
Although Trotter achieved national attention be-
cause of his ongoing feud with Booker T. Washington,
not all Bostonians felt as he did. In spite of opposition
from Trotter and Integrationists, Washington founded
the National Business League (NBL) in Boston in 1900,
at the home of Dr. Sam Curtney, a graduate of Har-
Adi't'i tiH'menl for the Southern Diningroom
vard Medical School. Originally called the National
Negro Business League, the NBL was created because
black people felt "left out of the nation's economic
The League held a national convention in Boston
in 1 91 5 and returned to the Hub periodically in inter-
vening years. When the NBL held its diamond anni-
versary convention in Boston in 1975 as part of the
city's Bicentennial celebration, it honored Estella
V. Crosby, who was chairman of a National Business
League (NBL) convention held in Boston more than
twenty years ago.
Mrs. Crosljy operated her own beauty shop for
years and also ran a retail store on Tremont Street
when it buzzed as the hub of black business enterprise
in Boston. She organized the Housewives League and
\\ orked with the League of Women Voters.
Born in Alexandria, Virginia, Mrs. Crosby was
brought to Boston by her parents when she was a year
old. Her parents lived in the South End, but Mrs.
Crosby began her work as a beautician in the West
"I fixed hair for whites and blacks," she says. "La-
ter I moved to Tremont Street, where I also ran a dry
goods store. This store did business w ith white and col-
Her father inspired hei', she says:
"My lather came to Boston w ith a friend. He had
three daughters and decided he would give us the op-
portunity to make good. He went to MIT (Massachu-
setts Institute of Technology) and Harvard."
Mrs. Crosby also studied lousiness at Harvard, not
for a degree, but to learn how to operate her enter-
"I was ai'raid of men," Mrs. C'rosby says, "but ev-
erybody helped me. In my hairdressing business, I
fixed hair for prostitutes, both white and black. They
were bad girls, but I never got hin t and nobody e\'er
Mrs. Crosliy did business with one madam who had
ten girls working for hei'.
"People warned me al)()ut these l)ad folks. I went
out at night often to fix the hair of entertainers in night
spots in the red light district. I was always afraid, al-
though I was not one who did a lot of carrying on."
Her father left her and her brother, Johnny Allen,
who later became a jazz pianist, a square block of
property and she managed it for both of them.
Mrs. Crosby is married to Adrian Crosby, a re-
tired seaman and Pullman porter.
"I spent 43 years at sea," says Mr. Crosby, "and
did some work ashore. On ship, I did many things. I
was a cook, pantryman, messman and assistant stew-
ard. Most of my work was on freighters. Passenger
ships didn't hire many colored."
On land, Mr. Crosby worked on the railroad as a
car cleaner and porter. He and his wile still take an in-
terest in business.
Mrs. Crosby did not support Monroe Trotter in
his activities against Booker T. Washington. She advo-
cated economic progress, no matter how menial the
approach to making money. She explains her views:
"Tr(jttei' and people like him wanted to climb too
fast. They wanted to l>e with the other race. They
could have done many things, biU didn't. They could
have had concessions — shoe shine parlois, l)aibcr
shops, grooming services. Negroes groomed whites
down .South, l)ut nobody did il here.
"It seemed too menial to these jjcopie. Today
there isn't a decent l)lack restaurant in town. There
used to be lots of good ones.
"There were other l)usinesses. One man contracted
to clean all the theatres downtown after closing. That
idea died with him. John Lane used to clean windows
dow ntown; at one time, he employed 24 men. That's
gone. We seiviced Scollay Scjuare. Those weie the
.'\lthough Mrs. Chcjsby does not think black people
have achieved up to their potential, she says white ra-
cism has existed in Boston for years. " There were
fights with whites. It was terrible. C'olored people
moved away from Beacon Hill. It was terril)le to go to
the beaches, even Revere Beach."
While Mrs. Cr()sl)y was active in business, J.
Gideon CJ.\rnett became a dentist. She was very
"I never had any famous patients,"' Dr. Ciarnett
says. 'T just had patients who paid me. Some of them
came from New York and from as far away as Wash-
ington. One frf)m Washington called on me two years
ago, saying he had saved his dental woi k lor me. I told
him, T'm sorry, l)ut I'm not doing any more work.'"
She retired in 1970. A Bostonian for sixty-five
years, she was l?orn and spent her early childhood in
Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Dr. Garnett talks about her
role as a woman dentist:
"When I first started, patients came to the ofiice
and saw me. They asked for the dentist. 'I'm the den-
tist,' I said.
"They said, 'Oh, I wanted a real dentist!'
INTERIOR VIEW OF EUREKA CO-OPERATIVE BANK
930 Tremont Street Boston, Mass.
The only Bank in the East owned and operated by Colored people. For
particulars, pamphlets may be had at Convention Hall or at the Bank
DAVID E. CRAWFORD, Treasurer
CASTLE BUILDING, 456 Tremont St., Boston, Mass.
Rooma for Fraternal OrKSnijalions. Ternu rra»onable. Apply to Superinlcndcnl on premises
or to DAVID E CRAWFORD. Owner. 930 Tremont Street. Boston. Mass
"And they left, especially the men.
"One day a man who was really suffering said,
'Oh, dear, I wanted a real dentist; my tooth is aching
"'I could probably relieve you. Why don't you sit
down in the chair?'
"He sat in the chair and I injected novacaine. He
slid off the chair. When I took the tooth out, he fainted.
After he came to, he said, 'Well, I guess you are a den-
Dr. Garnett's mother brought her four children to
Boston when her husband died. Dr. Garnett walked to
dental school at Tufts University every day and then
returned home to keep house for the family. After mar-
riage and children, Dr. Garnett lived in Roxbury
where she practiced dentistry from an office in her
home. The year she graduated from Tufts, Mrs. Gar-
nett was indirectly involved in the city police strike of
1 91 9. Her husband was one of the first black policemen
hired. She says:
"The city was up in arms; there was no protection.
But that didn't last too long. Men took the examina-
tion and were put right on the force. My husband
passed the exam, but he was three pounds too light. He
drank cod liver oil and gained those three pounds."
Dr. Garnett was afraid for her husband as a police-
man. "Don't worry about me; I can take care of my-
self," he told her. "And he took care of himself," she
said. "He had some narrow escapes, but he always
managed to come out on top. If he were on the force
today, he'd be dead, because he was a fair officer. The
kids don't fear the cops like they used to. All my hus-
band had to do was walk down the streets and they
Memories of Early Twentieth-Century Boston
The turn of the twentieth century brought an era
of good feeling and of frustration, an era to rememl>er.
Boston was a city of integration and segregation, of
Melnea Cass, The First Lady of Roxbury
Monroe Trotter and Booker T. Washington, of black
people growing up and becoming cultured, of black
people hitting the street and hustling, of prim and
proper children going to church with the family every
Sunday, of black people beginning to vote, of black
women becoming sufTragettes along with white wo-
After long years of residence in Boston, black peo-
ple have retained their identity. Mrs. Melnea Cass de-
scribes one phase of black culture, food, and how it was
adapted by white people:
"Every year my grandparents sent us things from
the garden, meal and southern peas. Things hke
black-eyed peas and pork products weren't on the mar-
ket then. My grandparents killed pig, cured it and
sent us the kind of meat they had back home."
Today, ifa diner visits Bob the Chef's restaurant on
Columbus Avenue, he will notice that this soul food
emporium features pork chitterlings as one of its two
specialities. It costs $4.25, the same price charged for a
steak. The restaurant also sells trotters (pig's feet), ham
hocks and other such food, at the same price as liver or
ham or meat loaf
Nursery school class at the Robert Gould Shaw House, c. ig§o
Speaking of her experiences in the early i goo's,
Mrs. Cass remarks:
"Some of these foods came on the market in Boston
because people demanded them. No matter what it is
you want, business people will try to get it. They began
to meet demands. I remember when you could not buy
hominy grits or pig's feet in the store. My mother went
to the slaughterhouse in Brighton where they gave
away chitterlings. She could get it for nothing. They
didn't know what to do with it.
"Black people knew what to do with it, but white
people just wondered. When business people found out
what black people did with this food, they made mon-
ey on it. Now they sell them frozen. Think of frozen
chitterlings on the market! I never thought I'd live to
see that. After all, they were dirty and filthy. We
cleaned them for two or three days. All that's been
Mrs. Cass, president of the Women's Service Club,
recalls many cultural and civic activities, especially
those of the Women's Service Club — of Shaw House,
of helping soldiers — of aiding the elderly and of church
Today is a new day, she says as she reminisces:
"We lived through many things that young people
of today don't have to endure. Now we're living in a
new day and we can realize what a change has come —
everything is so beautiful and systematized. We enjoy
this life; most of us are grateful. Of course, some people
don't appreciate it."
"Some of us have lived to see people get jobs where
they never had them before. Somebody had to press
for these jobs. Some of us were in there pressing. 1 was.
So, Fm glad to be living and seeing all the changes."
As a little girl, Helen Louise Walker carried
lunches to her father wherever he worked, laying as-
phalt on the streets of the city. He had come to Boston
in the i88os after being carried as a slave from his na-
tive North Carolina to Nova Scotia.
"Any place he was laying asphalt, I took his
lunch," she says. "He never went outside of Boston
where he couldn't come home on Saturday night.
When there was no asphalt work, he worked with fur-
niture movers. He had a rag license. He bought rags.
He was a busy person."
Mrs. Walker's father often sold junk, but not in the
tradition of television's Sanford and Son.
"My father didn't have to holler in the street for his
junk because years ago most of the houses in Brookline
and Newton had janitors. My father knew quite a few
of them. They saved things for him and he'd come
back to town with a piled wagon. Once in a while he
Helen Walker and family
went around the city and picked up, but most of the
time he knew where to get his load."
Mis. Walker, aged seventy, was born at 2 1 Kendall
Street, but she did not grow up there "because that
was only one room. As soon as my mother was able, my
parents moved because that was their plan." She grew
up on Flagg street in the South End.
"I rememljer when I was the only girl of my race
llicrc. I played with children of different nationalities
who lived there. VVc played jackstones and fall and
jump rope ... I never fought. I have never been hit
and I have iievei" hit anyone.
'"We'd call names, hut then we'd get ready to play
again. We'd call to one another: 'Do you want to play
ball, want to take an end of the rope, play hopscotch.'"
As an only child, Mrs. Walker's household tasks
Workmen, from the Herbert Collins Collection
were to "bring the coal and wood up from the cellar to
the second floor; fill the lamps; even ofTthe wicks; keep
the chimneys clean. I fi.xed the lamps for all the
Schools were separate for boys and girls at the up-
per level. Mrs. Walker talks of her high scIkjoI studies:
"The High School of Practical Arts had a nice cur-
riculum. A lot of people scorned it; many felt that il
you didn't have a literary education, you were nobody.
Practical Arts did not teach language, but it offered
most of the same subjects taught at other schools. The
headmaster thought that any woman, regardless of her
status in life, should know how to take care of a home.
And that was one of our subjects. We could also study
economics, dressmaking, millinery, business, or art."
This practical training served Mrs. Walker well.
Her first job as a high school freshman was taking care
of twins on Christmas vacation.
"The next thing I did was to go to serve lunch and
wash dishes for a family in Brookline who owned a
store on Washington Street. I went there ev^ery Sun-
day. I also worked in the lunch room at school because
the cooking class cooked the lunches."
As an old-fashioned mother, she believes in serving
her family, cooking and sewing for them. When asked
if she made rice pudding, she responds:
"What would I have done with all those kids if I
hadn't made puddings and everything else?
"Tm sorry for children who go to school hungry. I
haven't got any patience with mothers who don't give
their children breakfast. I don't think mothers should
be pampered like that. I was such a black mammy that
I used to get up to give my children breakfast and fi.x
'"One morning I was mashing up hamburgers from
the night before. I didn't have enough mayonnaise. So,
I threw some ketchup in to make it spread. My family
has been eating hamburgers with mayonnaise and
ketchup ever since. Lord knows that was a mishap!"
Mrs. Walker speaks of her relationships with her
father and her husband:
"I'm not looking for someone to give me some-
thing. I wasn't brought up that way. My father
wouldn't let me go any place with charity. He bought
his liquor and he bought his food and he kept some-
thing on my back, too. It may not have been the kind
of coat I wanted, but I always had a coat on my back.
He didn't let me go places where things were doled
"During Prohibition I had to be very careful where
I went because I didn't want my lather coming and
cussing at people because I was in their house and they
were selling licjuor. Even if he was buying moonshine,
I better not go where it was. He'd bring his moonshine
home and he'd reek. His job would be sitting there and
the moonshine would be dropping down through some
cotton batting and charcoal to purify it. While that
gallon was being purified, he drank another gallon.
I've seen plenty of liquor in my day."
She calls her husband ""fussy." One day he took the
wTona; lunch ba,^ to work and found a child's meat
sandwich and jelly sandwich. He took only one sand-
wich to work for lutich.
■'W ho eats all this.'" he asked. "How many sand-
wiches do you ,u;ive these kids? No wonder I haven't
got any money."
Of her husband, she says:
"He was the happiest man \\ hen I was iKuefoot and
pres^nant. He really laus^hed then. He was iiappy. Last
time, I didn't get to church because I had the shoes,
l)ut I didn't have the hat, or I had the hat, i)ut I didn't
have the shoes. He got all dressed and shined his white
shoes. If any polish got in the crevices or perforations
of his shoes, he picked it out with a toothpick. He came
and stood in front of mama. Then he said to me: 'Why
don't you sit in the back yard.^' "
Mrs. Walker has eight children. She tells this story
of Rachel, her oldest:
"If my children didn't go to chuich, they didn't go
out. One Sunday morning Rachel got up so sick she
couldn't go to Sunday school. She stayed upstairs; I
don't think she even came down to eat. We weren't too
far from the pond and anybody coming from church
would pass this way.
'T don't know what Ijrought me from the kitchen
to the dining room. As I was coming through, I saw
some girls coming toward the house. By the time I
reached the dining room door, Miss Rachel was com-
ing downstairs with her coat on. I got to the door first
and a giil said, "Clan Rachel go for a walk?'
"'No, dear," I said. "Rachel is sick. I don't want her
to die in the street." "
Although she has ne\ei- been an activist, Mrs.
Walker is aware of racism in Boston. She tells of an in-
cident in which her cousin, a Navy man, w as l)eaten up
l)y whites in Oharlestown:
"Usually the boys in the Nav\' would go back to
ship in a group oi at least two or three. 'I'liis night, he
went back alone. And they beat him. This hapix-ncd
about 1922 or 1923."'
When asked why, she responds:
"Why do white folks do anything that's not right?
I imagine when some of them sit and talk, they have
hand-me-down conversations about what they used to
do to the nigger. If they got after you years ago, there
might not be another Negro around to help. If they
jumped you then, you were just jumped."
Women's liberation does not impress Mrs. Walker:
"My children tell me I'm mi.xed up. I don't say
women can t be gc^od politicians, but somebody needs
to keep the pot boiling. I do think if a woman is work-
ing and doing the same work a man is doing, she
should get the same pay he gets.
"There arc some things men do that I don't want
to do. I don't want to run a bulldozer. I don't think
women need all that muscle. In some countries, I un-
derstand that women do that kind of work. Our slaves
didn't do too much of that stuff. They were picking
cotton. Or nursing somebody's bal^y."
Mrs. Walker was not involved in the civil rights
movements of the '50s and '60s.
"I had just stopped growing babies then. I was still
home washing diapers. I never had a washing ma-
chine. Just home washing diapers, scrubijing floors."
She felt she should be at home with her children,
not running up and down the street after them.
Today, she is afraid to go out in the dark.
"When I was young, I'd go everyplace, come
home, get off the streetcar and walk. Nobody bothered
me. We didn't have cars. We didn't ride as much as
most people do now. We'd just walk, high heels and all,
walk. Nobody said anything. If a man said something
to me, white or colored, I didn't answer him. He
wouldn't say anytiiing more."
Mrs. Walker recalls that black people went down-
town to all the big theatres and to community theatres
as well — the Puritan, the Eagle and others — for a dime,
a quarter, or thirty-five cents, "no children or babies
She also remembers tiie Pioneer C'lub, "an alter-
Musician, from the Herbert Collins Collection
hours place where people went to let their hair down
after seeing the colored shows that played here. The
white folks used to go there, too."
Mrs. Walker went to see Josephine Baker, Ethel
Waters, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. She also
enjoyed parades and going to Revere Beach. A favorite
pastime was attending chocolate afternoons, when peo-
ple served chocolate rather then tea.
"Years ago people used to serve chocolate and
chocolate sets were a beautiful piece of chinaware. The
cups were usually a little taller than a teacup. All I
ever saw were beautiful, beautiful.
"Today everything is cocktails. I'm not against
people drinking if they want to and know how to drink.
In season, with reason, that's what I say."
Mrs. Walker led a sedate social life, but young peo-
ple of her day had their moments.
"The most we used to do was go to a show. Once in
a while, I went to a dance. When I got old enough to
go out, some of the girls from Cambridge, Everett and
Boston went to one another's houses and played rec-
"Oh, we carried on terrible though! When my
cousin from the Navy came home, we put some grape
juice and oranges and lemons in mother's thick white
crockware pitchers. He added some moonshine and,
oh, we carried on ! When I got older, sometimes I made
People ha\e always cautioned her about walking
too fast, Mrs. Walker says:
"One day, a man named Mr. Washington called to
me, 'Nellie, Nellie, you walk so fast you won't get a
husband !' People still get after me about walking fast."
Irene O'B.anvon Robinson, aged sixty-nine,
lived in a different atmosphere than Mrs. Walker. Mrs.
Robinson grew up in Cambridge. Her father taught
music in his homes in Cambridge and Boston to stu-
dents from both cities. In addition, he was an actor
who worked with Ralf Coleman's Boston Players. He
also sang with the Columbia Glee Club. Mrs. Robin-
son grew up in the cultural tradition. She tells of her
parents' cultural and civic interests:
"My father and mother were both members of the
Professional group from the Herbert Collins Collection
Thursday Evening Club before they were married. It
was a social club that met in homes. Members had a
common interest in culture, in art or the art forms, mu-
sic, drama. In this club, my mother and father came in
contact with many people who became famous."
Mrs. Robinson recalls that she met the famed black
tenor, Roland Hayes, and his wife at Filene's Basement
"more than anywhere else." Her parents sang in The
Messiah when Marian Anderson came to Boston. She
remembers meeting top black physicians, including
several who played tennis, which she calls "a game
played by the noble gentry."
Moving to Boston from Cambridge in 1927 was
good, says Mrs. Robinson. She liked the "clean and
well kept" apartment on Humboldt Street and the
shopping area near Dudley Station.
"At that time," she says, "Blair's was really a beau-
tiful market. Everyone went to Dudley Station to shop
at Blair's and Timothy Smith's department store. Tim-
othy Smith's employed a black elevator operator. The
Ferdinand Furniture Store was one of the best in town.
It still is, but there isn't the demand for their type of
merchandise anymore because so many people who
could have paid for it have moved away. Dudley Sta-
tion was an ideal shopping center."
\Irs. Rol:iinson liked the neighljorhood stores, too
— a supermarket, a bakery and the Townsend drug-
"One of the employees at the drugstore," she says,
"was a boy named Malcolm Little who grew up to be
Malcolm X. We all knew him as a l)ad little boy who
ran like the dickens when he was in trouble. Later, he
became quite a celebrated person."'
She talks about her sister's coming out party:
"My mothei" wanted me to have a debut. She be-
lieved firmly that we shouldn't go out until we were
sixteen years old. Then she would present us, and we
could go. Mrs. Robinson did not have a coming out
party because a Harvard student. Bill Knox, called on
her before she was sixteen and invited her to attend his
graduation and all the festivities.
"My mother said I couldn't go because I wasn't
sixteen. Her ne.xt-door neighbor said, 'O'Banyon, you
don't have any sense. You know a black girl doesn't
get the chance to go to Harvard and do those things.
You'd better let that girl go.' So I did. I went. And
that was my going out."
Of her Harvard spree, Mrs. Robinson says:
"It wasn't very e.xciting. It was traditional. It was
in the Yard. Black people were kind of lost."
Her sister's party, held in the family house on May-
fair Street in Boston, was much more exciting.
"It must have been 1929. We had a large living
room with a very beautiiul chandelier. One of her ush-
joe \clsu>i, French teacher and historian, c. nj20
ers was BoIj Wea\ er, the first black memljcr ol a Presi-
dent's cabinet ( Robert Cl. Weaver, Secretary ol Hous-
ing and Urban Development under President Lyndon
B. Johnson). Another was Bill Hastie (United States
Judge W'illiam Hastie, the first black governor of the
\'irgin Islands 1. We had a wondeiful time. She had a
party of about twelve — tvs elve girls and the ushers. A
coming out party was fun if it was done right. But
when a family took it too seriously, well ! We did it
properly because my mother said we should do it prop-
erly, but we had a ball doing it. That was the differ-
While she went to college, Mrs. Robinson also en-
joyed fraternity formals, basketball games, social af-
fairs and parties. She worked during summer vaca-
"My first job was running an elevator," she says.
"I was only 15, but I was tall. I took instruction from
the mother of a friend. When I went for my license,
they never questioned me."
During the Depression, Mrs. Robinson worked for
the WPA to help her mother whose health was broken.
She sang with the WPA Chorus under the direction of
Warner Lawson, who later became dean of Howard
University Music School. When she finished school,
Mrs. Robinson worked for the city v\ elfare department
until she had the first of her five daughters. "That was
in 1945 and I haven't worked since."
Mrs. Robinson says the best jobs for l)lack men
were at the United States Post Office or with the rail-
roads. Black lawyers, dentists and other professionals
worked in the post office because they could not de-
pend on their practice to earn a living.
"'The post office was really the haven," she says.
"They had the best trained workers, not only in Bos-
ton, but everywhere. Men could go to work and stay
clean. If they had to take janitors' jobs, they had to get
dirty. A lot of the men felt they had worked too hard
and spent too much money getting through college to
have to go out and get dirty."'
Today Mrs. Rf)binson is working to revive the Meet
the Artist Sunday alternoon musical programs at St.
WiLHEi.MiNA Crosso.x grew up in a world of
white people, athletics, education and civic, but non-
political, activities. She took an interest in sports be-
cause of her brothers.
"My oldest brother was i)orn too early. He was one
ol'the best footljall and baseball players. He was a four-
letter man who ran track and played basketball. My
brother was offlsred jobs at different times il he would
be anything but a Negro."
Another brother excelled in football, and a third
brother, Jasper Tasker, ran track. "I ran and played
basketball," recalls Miss Crosson, aged seventy-six.
They all went to schools with whites and had white
teachers. Miss C-rosson's only black teacher was a sub-
stitute. Nevertheless, she became an educator. She
worked for 25 years in the South End and then at
Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina,
a black private school, where she achieved national
note. She returned to Boston and her beloved South
End after retirement.
"I was one of the first teachers \\ ho studied remedi-
al reading. I was sent to different schools in Boston to
speak to teachers and to teach remedial reading. Then
I worked at one of the first remedial centers in Boston.
I saw that we had to prevent children from failing. It
was not enough to try to remedy poor reading; it was
better to prevent poor reading."
Miss Clrosson left Boston in 1948 to become Presi-
dent of Palmer Memorial Institute, succeeding Dr.
Charlotte Haw kins Brown, one of the nation's top edu-
Cultuic was Miss Crosson's great interest and,
through cultural and ci\ ic activities, she helped young
people. The Artisto Club was one enterprise. "Our
first members were teachers in different towns and suc-
cessful professional women. There were colored teach-
ers in Haverhill, Lowell and Worcester at that time
and we all formed the .\rtisto Club. The cIuIj isn't do-
ing today what we started it to do."
She believes education slif)uld l)e cultin'al.
"At Palmer, I stressed languages, for example. I re-
memlier Roijert S. Abbott (founder and editor of the
Chicago Defender, a daily newspaper) telling us that Ne-
Marie Baldwin, first president of
the League of Women for Community Service
groes liad better learn sonietliing more tlian English.
At Palmer, ue offered Latin, Spanish and French."
Carter G. Woodson spoke at 558 Massachusetts
Avenue, home of the League of Women for C'ommun-
ity Service. "This was a cultural center," Miss Crosson
says. "It was a very lovely place; it made us feel that
we had something because it was a beautiful house. I
joined 558 because of Xegi-o history."
Literarv meetings were also held at 464 Massachu-
setts A\ enue. home of the Women s Service Club. Dur-
ing \\orld War IL young women formed a knitting
club and also entertained soldiers there. Churches
were black people s great social centers. Miss Crosson
"We had May festivals; we had picnics; we rode
trains to various parks. Children Ijecame aware ol
their qualities as people through church."
Genev.\ Ste\v.a.rt, aged ninety-five, is the
daughter of a janitor. As a young woman, her first job
was washing dishes. She later worked as a stitcher. \ et
she and her sisters were culture-conscious.
"I recited and took elocution lessons; my younger
sister was a singer and my older sister was a pianist.
"7 here was music on my mother's side — she was al-
ways in the audience when we took part in a concert.
I was the odd one; I didn't sing."
The three sisters had to get permission to go to con-
certs on the Common on Sunday afternoons.
"It wasn't what you would call religious music, "
Miss Stewart notes. "They played marches and
waltzes, something that would interest the people
"We just broke up the Etude Club at St. Mark's
Church last year. " she says. "We were over 70 years
old. We had singers, violinists, everything in music. We
went to the Old Ladies Home every second Simday to
give a concert.
"They wore black dresses and big white aprons.
They faithfully came dow n and sat in the parlor. We
served them candies and fruit. We reported at two
o'clock, rain or shine, snow or sleet. "
Asked whether these were black women. Miss
"Yes — I don't like that word — they were all col-
"Colored people had better relations with white
people then than they do now," says Miss Stewart. "I
think it's terrible the way they go on nowada\-s. We all
went to schf)()l together and \\c never had any trouljle.
There v\eren"t as many ol us and they weren't so belUg-
crcnt as they are no\s-. We visited one another. We nev-
er seemed to have any troulile."
Of" today. Miss Stewart says:
'■'J here s no peace, no peace at all. We could stay
out until midnight, go home and feel safe. Now it's not
sale to go out. Of course, we had eruptions at times,
but we got along."
During her lifetime, Miss Stewart has met, l)ut re-
calls only \aguely, such people as Harriet Tubman,
I'lederick Dougla.ss, and Roland Hayes.
Miss Stewart always attended church.
■'We were brought up in a white church because
we lived in a white neigiiborhood. We didn't know any
other church. My sister was married from there. When
they had afl'aiis, we were always in llicni. I'lic only
time we saw coloreds was when we went to school.
That's how' we got acquainted.''
Miss Stewart's family life was happy. "We had a
lovely family relationship. We would cjuarrcl, Init it
ne\er separated us. It was love. We got it from our par-
ents. Xow I'm the only one left. My younger sister and
I ne\er married. We were dyed-in-the-wool old
Miss Stewart li\es with lier oldest sister's daughter
and enjoys two activities — voting and going to chin ch.
.She taught .Sunday school until she was 93, but now
she only goes to church services.
"I'm proud of voting. My niece takes me every vot-
ing day; I don't miss a day in primaries or regular elec-
Atiother ninety-year-old is Ev.a. Fisher, whom
people remember as a glamorous "hostess with the
mostest" because she opened her attractive home on
223 West Springfield Street to black entertainers who
had no other place to stay in Boston. Friends of Mrs.
Fisher recall that her home was a home away I'rom
home for such stars as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Eth-
el Waters, Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle and so many oth-
Her garden was her holjby. She was an excellent
cook. She ga\e garden parties.
"Eva was such a lovely hostess; people took to her
so well," says one who remembers her.
J.AMES Henderson recalls all the fun and ex-
citement of the life he has lived as an entertainer, as a
poet, as a father, as an adventurer.
Mr. Henderson came to the city in 191 7 as an actor
who thought ol' becoming a student. He explains his
"I came fiom \ irgijiia and brought some students
to work on tobacco fields near Hartlbrd. After spend-
ing the year there, I joined a theatrical company and
we toured New England. My purp(;se was to come
l)ack, settle in Boston, study for a year, then go back
Housing in the South End, c. 1880
He never returned to live in the South. Mr. Hen-
derson was twenty-three years old when he came to
Boston to study at Harvard or at Brown on a "small
scholarship. And then I found work, took other studies
here in Boston and became part of" the citizenry. Final-
ly, I married and here I am.""
7"he Hub has a special fascination lor Mr. Hender-
"Boston in 191 7 was not a great deal difTerent from
Boston in 1975. There was a consciousness about Bos-
ton, among the colored as well as the white. Let's as-
sume that the world is your hand. All the inside of the
hand was Boston and the few fingers were the rest of
the world. Boston, to some extent, still ha-s that atti-
Mr. Henderson stayed in Boston because he had
nerve — some people might call it gall. One example of
his nerve is his experience in finding a residence. On
arriving in Boston for the theatrical tour, Mr. Hender-
son reported to the Tubman House for an overnight
stay, but it was for women only.
"I was recommended to a \'irginia family living at
75 Windsor Street. I spent the night there and left to
go on tour. At the end of the tour, they were the only
people I knew in Boston, so I came back, set my suit-
case down in the middle of their living room and said,
'Here I am — back home." My landlady asked, 'Back
home?" I said, "You're the only people I know and the
only way you'll get me out of here is to throw me out.
I like it here. You're my type of people.'"
Another instance of Mr. Henderson's boldness oc-
curred at a "do-gooder's" home during a meeting of a
committee that helped ijlack people coming to the city.
Mr. Henderson was called upon to talk after he had
heard a participant advise one young newcomer, "I
would have to know more about your antecedents be-
fore I can recommend that we sponsor you."
"I was very bullheaded at that time," says Mr.
Henderson. "I really spoke my mind. I told them,
among other things, that in \'irginia, when we came to
manhood, our daddies turned us loose as men. In Bos-
ton, I wanted to be absorbed to a certain extent by the
better elements of population, but I would not beg for
"I told them to get out of my way because if they
didn"t, they were liable to be trampled. I have \ery
At that meeting, he met a leader of the Knights of
Pythias who told him, "Young man, you are going
right up my alley. Between the two of us we are going
to give these Bostonians hell. This gentleman and my-
self spoke our piece and I think w e opened the eyes of a
great many Bostonians."'
James Henderson s theatre group at the Harriet Tubman House, ig^i
Mr. Henderson worked with William Monroe
Trotter. He explains the diflerence between Trotter
"William Monroe Trotter and I often disagreed be-
cause he was an idealist and, even in my young days, I
was a pragmatic idealist. As a poor author and actor, I
dwelled among the stars, l)ut I never forgot that I took
my meals on earth and that the long green came in
mighty handy at chow time.
"I worked and lielped him in every way I could.
We had a mutual respect lor each other."
He recalls when black was not beautiful.
■"It was a long, long lime before black loecame
beautiful. There was plenty of color prejudice, particu-
larly for women. For example, there were some clubs
any male who was a scholar or student could join, no
matter w hat his complexion was. But if he was dark
and he had a dark sister, he was very loathe to take her
to social functions because she wouldn't be welcome."
Mr. Henderson perlbrmed with or knew most top
black stage performers. He recalls the youthful days of
iamed tenor Roland Hayes:
"When Roland lived with his mother, they had one
bed in the apartment. His mother slept in it. Roland
had some boxes with a mattress. That's where he slept.
"When he was ready to give his first recital at Sym-
phony Hall, a prominent New England lady who had
been his sponsor decided it was too ambitious an im-
dertaking. She withdrew her sponsorship. He decided
to go ahead just the same. He filled the auditorium and
five hundred extra seats on the stage. In spite of his
great triumph, Americans didn't recognize his full po-
tential until he had succeeded in Europe."
The singer's mother fascinated Mr. Henderson.
"Mrs. Hayes used to ask me to read one of my
poems, especially the dialect. Then she'd tell me just
what was wrong with it. Roland practically wor-
shipped her. He realized that she was his real inspira-
The Depression was the salvation of black artists,
says Mr. Henderson, "because for the first time most of
us had an opportunity to do the things we wanted to do
and get paid for them." Boston operated an adult rec-
reation program with a $6,000,000 budget. Mr. Hen-
derson describes his first play:
"At that time my second wife persuaded me to put
on one of my plays. I had no money. With fifteen dol-
lars a week I supported three children."
After this play. The Invi.sihle Empire, Mr. Henderson
wrote a pageant on the contributions of black authors
to world literature.
Henderson is also aware of racial discrimination.
"What's happening in Boston now was latent all
along. I remember when I was working in an ofilce
next door to a restaurant where they tried to discrim-
inate. So I went in there and raised holy hell. A lot of
hotels did not want us. Some restaurants didn't say no,
but they would rather not have us."
The renowned tenor, Roland Hayes
In concluding his poem that introduces this his-
tory, Henderson wrote:
I saw Jesus down in Dixie
Live a new Gethsernane.
Then I heard that awful warning given to humanity,
^Inasmuch as ye have done it'
Heard it boom on every breeze,
'Inasmuch as ye have done it to the very least oj these.
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
3 9999 04673 063 4
Luix OvERBEA, writer
K AT IE Kenneally, project coordinator, editor-in-chief
Lavert Stuart, interviewer, assistant project coordinator
Joan Fitzgerald, copy editor
Jan Coras h, photographic editor
Mary Yeaton, black programs coordinator
Harron Ellenson, director Boston 200
Michaeland Winifred Bixler, typography
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: This project is the result of the experience and insight of many Boston-
ians. Luix Overbea, writer, is a staff reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. We would like
to thank especially Robert Hayden of the Education Development Center for his extensive re-
search and the following participants: Lucille Allen, Rosa Bias, Melnea Cass, Dorothy Clark,
Astelle Crosby, Wilhelmina Crosson, Eva Fisher, the late Dr. J. Gideon Garnett, Roland Hayes,
James Henderson, Helen Holiday, the late Ben Jones, Bishop St. Clair Kirton, J. Marcus
Mitchell, Florence Moore, Joe Nelson, Rev. Richard Owens, Irene O'Banyon Robinson, Julia
Noble Smith, Geneva Stewart, Beatrice Todd, Helen Walker, Myrtle Worthy, and William
Worthy. We also thank those who excuse omissions — all unintentional — of key people and
events of Boston's Black History.
PHOTO CREDITS: The Museum of Afro- American History, the Print Department of the Boston
Public Library, Ed King and Gallery 560, James Henderson, Joseph Kolk, Joe Nelson, and
SPONSORS: The Black Neighborhood History Project was funded by the Massachusetts Bicen-
tennial Commission. The Neighborhood History Series was made possible through the support
of: The Blanchard Foundation, the Godfrey M. Hyams Trust, the Massachusetts Bicentennial
Commission, Workingmens Co-operative Bank, and the people of the City of Boston.
Boston enjoys an international reputation as the birthplace of our American
Revolution. Today, as the nation celebrates its 200th anniversary, that struggle
for freedom again draws attention to Boston. The heritage of Paul Revere, Sam
Adams, Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill still fire our romantic imaginations.
But a heritage is more than a few great names or places — it is a culture,
social history and, above all, it is people. Here in Boston, one of our most cher-
ished traditions is a rich and varied neighborhood life. The history of our neigh-
borhood communities is a fascinating and genuinely American story — a story
of proud and ancient peoples and customs, preserved and at the same time
transformed by the American urban experience.
So to celebrate our nation's birthday we have undertaken to chronicle
Boston's neighborhood histories. Compiled largely from the oral accounts of
living Bostonians, these histories capture in vivid detail the breadth and depth
of our city's complex past. They remind us of the most important component
of Boston's heritage — people,which is, after all,what the Bicentennial is all about.
Kevin H. White, Mayor